Bela Bhatia

“A reign of terror has been unleashed by the Chhattisgarh government in the Bastar region. The reign is so deadly that even the non-violent movement is stifled undemocratically by use of brute force.” This is how human rights activist and social researcher Bela Bhatia summarised the situation in Bastar region, in an interview with The Hindu here on Friday.

It is not only the common Adivasis in the region who live in fear, but also social activists and lawyers, who take up public issues, social researchers such as Bela and journalists like Malini Subramanian, are hounded both by the security forces and by the henchmen of the ruling party.

Bastar has been part of the ‘red corridor’ of the Maoists since long. There is a constant fight between the State-sponsored security forces or combatants, and the armed cadres of the Maoists. But in this fight, researchers, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and common Adivasis, are caught in the crossfire, said Ms. Bhatia. Even non-violent movement is given the hue of terror and linked to Maoists.

History of violence

Historically, the Adivasi population of Bastar region has been subjected to various forms of atrocities since ages. But in the recent modern times, the unrest started with the State government trying to push its hidden agenda of mining to benefit the corporate sector, she alleged.

“We have seen it happen in Lohandiguda. The agenda is to push the Adivasis to the brink of fleeing their ancestral homes. The mining agenda is totally undemocratic and a gross violation of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996,” said Ms. Bhatia.

Rape as weapon

Raman Singh’s government has been using the intimidating tactics both against activists and the Adivasis, Ms. Bhatia alleged. In the larger Bastar region, covering areas such as Abuj Madh, Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur, there is a presence of over 42,000 combatants, comprising men from BSF, CRPF and State Police, as per the state given statistics. But sources say that the figure is over 1.2 lakh, and every five kilometres there is either a BSF or CRPF camp. The entire region is like a jail, pointed out the social researcher.

Adivasis get picked up at will, detained, interrogated and beaten and at times even killed. Lado Sodi, a 21-year-old youth, was picked up by the security forces from the farm and beaten mercilessly. He returned home only to die the next day and his body was forcibly cremated without a proper inquest and post-mortem, she alleged.

According to Ms. Bhatia, if an unbiased probe is conducted in the region, then such stories of atrocities committed by the security forces will stumble out of the cupboards.

The social activist has been in the crosshairs of the government ever since she assisted the tribal women to register FIRs against the security forces for gang-rape and sexual assault. “The rape cases had come to us by chance. We went for something else and we stumbled upon the mass gang-rape victims at a shandy. So far three mass gang-rape cases, committed by the security forces between October 2015 and January 2016, have come to light. While two were committed in Bijapur area, one was in Sukma. In all, 22 women, including minors, were gang-raped and eight have come forward to lodge FIRs.

DRG’s face used

The rapes have been systematically organised. The security forces in large numbers enter the villages, chase the menfolk out and then rape the women. There were instances, when a woman who protested against the stealing of her hens, was raped. There were instances when women who had gone to the camps to lodge a complaint against atrocities, were raped, she claimed.

And according to Ms. Bhatia, in most of the cases, the frontal face of the rapes is given to the District Reserve Guards (DRG). The BSF or CRPF men are accompanied by the DRG, who are a force created out of the disbanded SPO (special police officers) of the Salwa Judum and surrendered naxalites. “It is the DRG men who talk to the women initially in their Gondi language and the masked men of the central forces, commit the crime. So whenever, the district collector or a committee ask who were the culprits, the DRG men are named, as they are locals,” said Ms. Bhatia.

The gang-rape issue has been taken up by the National Commission for STS, National Commission of Women and NHRC, but no action has been initiated.